Karlee Prazak J304 Prison Article 7 June 2010 Tied down and locked up The moment Eddy Estrada pulled the trigger on the shotgun he held the way he lived and loved was forever changed. Estrada is 18 years into serving his sentence of 15 to life for second-degree murder. He and his wife are in their 16th year of marriage. “I wanted to wait until she was 18 to get married,” Estrada said. They were 16 years old when their relationship began. That same year Estrada was tried and sent to jail. The couple was then married while Estrada was at the San Diego County Jail. He described the ceremony as the happiest, yet most heart-wrenching moment of his life. Estrada wasn’t even allowed a kiss his bride after the priest announced them husband and wife. “It was rough. We were behind glass and only got a half-hour visit after,” said Estrada, who is now in the California Men’s Colony (CMC) in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Despite the walls, guards, visitation rights and endless amounts of barbed wire, prison relationships still exist. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), maintaining relationships is the most effective aid to an inmate’s rehabilitation process. In order to determine each prisoner's rehabilitation process, Warden of CMC Terri Gonzalez said when prisoners enter the system, they are asked a series of personal questions. The questions range from “What gang affiliations do you have?” to “How many children are you father to?” Gonzalez said that each inmate is given a certain amount of “points” when incarcerated. Based on their interview, points are subtracted for family life, marriage, children and positive relationships like these. High points are bad — low is good. The lower points an inmate has, the quicker his rehabilitation process is expected to be.
Estrada and fellow CMC inmate Vincent “Chinté” Hortado both see their families as a driving force to leave behind their past lifestyles and get out of prison. “(My wife) is a big motivator and factor in my life,” Estrada said. He said he thinks about her daily and is grateful "they have been able to hold onto each other." While Estrada never had the chance to conceive a child, Hortado has two sons fighting in Iraq. He said he is proud of them, especially because they did not get involved in the same gang-like behavior that got him a sentence of 15 to life for second-degree murder. He has served 30 years so far. Hortado said being a good husband and father is a daily struggle from inside the walls, but he tries. His wife does everything she can from the outside to keep their love and family strong. She moved with him to Sacramento, Calif., while he served time in Folsom. Now, she lives in Morro Bay to be close and visits CMC weekly. But such a unique support system isn't common of most prisoners, and the women who choose to stand by their prisoners are even more rare. “Prisoners have the characteristics of an anti-social personality disorder,” said Marina Garza, a therapist who specializes in domestic abuse. “They have hours and hours to think of ways to make somebody feel good about themselves and manipulate the relationship.” The women Garza said she sees in abusive relationships are similar to women involved with inmates. Both display insecurities and easily succumb to the man’s display of love and attention. “Somebody who is feeling vulnerable and insecure eats that behavior up, "Garza said. "They love it." There are, however, successful relationships between prisoners and civilians. These are the relationships that are encouraged by the prison system because the benefits outweigh the sacrifices. Garza said in healthy relationships, both parties need to share the same level of respect and commitment.
Essentially, a relationship is only helpful if it’s a positive influence on the inmate’s life and gives purpose to rehabilitate with a goal of reentering society. According the CDCR, inmates who have continual family support and loved ones on the outside tend to rehabilitate themselves faster than inmates without support. This is why California is one of six states that offers extended family visits to prisoners. This allows the inmate and up to three family members stay in an designated apartment for two days. The other five states that allow overnight visits are New York, Connecticut, Mississippi, Washington and New Mexico. In order to qualify for extended family visits, the inmate’s family must apply by filling out the proper paperwork and submit the approproate identification, such as a California identification card or a driver’s license. Once the family is approved, the inmate must also be approved. The inmate cannot be serving a life sentence and cannot be in for rape or child molestation. He must be in a medium-security prison or less, he cannot have a CDC 115 charge, which is violating prison rules or displaying bad behavior, and he must have been legally married prior to incarceration. Extended family visits are used as an incentive for inmates to stay on good behavior and obey rules. According to a legal advice article by Patrick Rodgers, conjugal visits were implemented in 1918 by James Parchmann at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. They were mainly used as an incentive to make inmates work harder and diligently. The name was formally changed from conjugal visits to extended family visits to emphasize the importance of maintaining a family relationship and acknowledge that these visits aren’t solely about sexual relationships. In 2007, the laws were further altered. California acknowledge the importance of allowing equal privileges to qualified inmates. So, in compliance to the state’s domestic partnership law, the
CDCR extended the privilege of overnight visitations to homosexual inmates. When the civilians and inmate pass the approval process, they are given a weekend date for their overnight residency. Officer Andy Patoniac said the apartments at CMC were previously trailers, so they are referred to as “family living trailers.” They are located on either side of the visitation room just beyond the main check in area and gates. Patoniac said that the apartments come fully furnished with a kitchen and two bedrooms. The inmates buy food through the prison for the stay. Visitors are allowed one small bag with essentials such as toiletries, and their clothes must comply with the normal visitation dress code. Everything brought in is searched. Since sex between married couples is often part of the extended family visit, visitors are allowed to bring in a maximum of 10 factory-sealed condoms. Hortado was allowed extended family visits until they were taken away from “lifers,” those serving up to a life sentence, in 1996. He said the times he got to spend with his son and wife were “like getting out of jail for two days.” Hortado said he used to wrestle with his son to wear him out for the night time activities he longed for, but he said that his son did eventually catch on. “My son would be with us, and he’d be like, ‘Hey Dad don’t you have to go talk to Mom?’ He knew what was up,” Hortado said. Hortado did say the family visits weren't always carefree. It got hard being around his family because prison politics were always in the back of his mind. As soon as he got out and saw other inmates, “it (brought) me back instantaneously to reality.” “I was out there with my family — being a good father, son, husband — but plotting to get this one guy back inside,” Hortado said.
On the other hand, Estrada said he will never get the chance to have an extended family visit with his wife because not only is he a lifer, but because he "tied the knot" after his incarceration. He can only visit his wife every other weekend during visitation hours, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at the designated visitation areas in CMC. A prison officer said inmates who can only see their loved ones during the visitation hours often times get carried away. “They’ll try to engage in sexual activity in the visitation rooms in front of kids, family, anything,” said the officer, who wished to remain anonymous. He said these acts get broken up instantaneously, though, and result in punishment through revoking certain inmate rights. Only being allowed these short, monitored visitations, despite what prison the inmate is in, makes keeping a relationship hard said Carole Santos, wife to Michael Santos, a federal prison inmate of 23 years who is now at Lompoc Federal Correction Complex (FCC). “It is an extremely difficult and challenging life, and I would not recommend anyone enter into this kind of relationship naively,” Santos said. “(Michael and I) have a long history and a solid, shared foundation.” Santos said that she feels their relationship is an exception because they have known each other since age 11. They will be married for seven years on June 24. Their relationship thrives on written messages, phone calls and visitation hours because Santos is in a federal prison, and no federal prison inmates are allowed extended family visits. The maintenance of relationships outside the walls drive inmates such as Estrada, Hortado and Santos to accept their incarcerations thus far and focus on rehabilitation. According to the officer, these inmates are considered “programmed” and are the equivalent to “good citizens” in society. They contribute to the prison system by obeying rules and taking advantage of the rehabilitative programs offered.
In cases like those of Hortado and Estrada, their friend affiliations got them locked up, but the key to their success in the prison system is maintaining positive relationships with loved ones outside the walls.